Johnny Damon is the hottest hitter in the known universe. He's hitting .448 during a 14-game batting streak and he's had 14 hits in the last four games, the last of which landed in the Texas bullpen to cap a 4-for-5 night that included a two-run Wall-job double and a previous home run.
"Fourteen hits in four games?" said first base coach Bill Haselman. "I'd be lucky to get 14 hits in a year."
Must be the hottest he's ever been, no?
"Well," he mused. "In the second half of 2000, after they told me I wasn't going to be traded, I hit .386. I was on fire. It feels a little bit like that."
Whatever it feels like, the effect is obvious.
"I always say, `When Johnny hits good, we're going to win,' " said hitting coach Ron Jackson.
Hitting good, or well, or whatever, is one thing, but what Damon is currently doing is borderline illegal. In the first four games of this homestand against the AL West iron, he is 14 for 22 with 7 runs and 7 RBIs. Tuesday night he got five hits, four of them up the middle. Last night he had a single through the third base/shortstop hole, a home run not far from the Pesky Pole, the double off the Wall (the hit that ended the competition for the evening, actually), and the eighth-inning, crowd-pleasing finale, a soaring shot into the Texas bullpen off a young man named Nick Regilio, who happened to be making his big league debut, and who had retired the first two men rather easily before running into Mr. Sizzle.
"It was his debut?" inquired the ever-polite Damon, who sounded as if he was ready to send the kid some flowers and a note of apology.
While we're in the statistical groove here, let me throw a few more numbers around. Way back when (i.e. last Sunday), he came out of Atlanta hitting .296. Right now he's up to .319. He's had six consecutive multiple-hit games and 14 multiple-hit games in his last 20. Runs? Glad you asked. He scored three last night, putting him on a pace to score 127 this season. When he scores two or more runs the 2004 Red Sox are 13-1. That's no surprise. Last year they were 21-1 when he scored twice. Papa Jack was definitely onto something.
Johnny Damon is, and always has been, a good player, beard or no beard, hair down to his tushie or hair neatly cropped. He is a leadoff man whose job is to get on base and ignite an offense, and if you measure his value by looking at runs you'd have to say he's pretty good. He's working on six straight 100-run seasons, and with 66 scored already this season he's a lock to make it seven. He's always had a little pop in the bat (109 career home runs), and he has always been able to run (that is, when asked to) and he can sure go get 'em in the field. The one glitch in the resume is a notoriously weak throwing arm.
In the aforementioned 2000, he really was a monster, finishing with a batting average of .327, an on-base percentage of .382, and a career-high 136 runs. Since then he's been a half-season kind of guy, for whatever reason. The Red Sox are hoping that will change. They're kinda getting used to Johnny being on base, like, oh, all the time.
"I will tell you what," said manager Terry Francona. "What he has done with the amount of at-bats under his belt is amazing. He's given us a big, big lift."
Johnny Damon is here to tell you that it isn't as easy as it looks. "Actually, I had to keep battling every at-bat tonight," he explained. "I felt awful stepping up to the plate that first at-bat. I couldn't catch up with the fastball to save my life. But I was able to get through it, get my hands right, and get a base hit."
That single was in the same spot as the base hit with two outs in the 10th Thursday, the hit preceding Bill Mueller's gap-shot that enabled Damon to make himself into a folk hero with that mad dash around the bases for the winning run. What's made this current streak so beautiful to watch is that he has frustrated rival pitchers by spoiling their best stuff and hitting the mistakes wherever they've been pitched. There may be a book on him right now, but someone has checked it out of the library.
He's being very careful not to take much credit for any of this. "Just watching a guy like Bill Mueller battle every day is inspiring," he said.
By the time he came up in the eighth, needing that elusive triple for the cycle, the crowd was really into it, chanting "John-ny! John-ny!" He rewarded them with his second homer, so you knew there would be a clamor for a curtain call. "It was great to hear the fans cheering for me," he said. "Manny [Ramirez] and David [Ortiz] have that kind of night every night."
Going back to spring training, Johnny Damon has been known throughout the land for his Twelve Apostles look, so much so that not many people outside of Boston bothered to notice that he was quietly having a pretty good year. Now he is not-so-quietly having a sensational year, and for the last 14 games he's been positively Hendersonian.
"I'm just trying to keep it going, have some good at-bats," he said.
My guess is that Mr. Francona will write his name on the lineup card tonight. Just a hunch.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is email@example.com.